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Autumn is my favorite time of year–always has been. Starting about mid-August, I welcome the soft shift in light; the lingering shadows come earlier; the nights get a tad cooler. Dead leaves begin to rustle in the breezes. The air takes on a parched smell.

When I was a little girl, school started after Labor Day. And school meant new shoes and pencils and  a fresh notebook with non-dogeared dividers. School meant reconnecting with friends and enjoying the buffed corridors–so shiny we could see our reflections.  Soon, though, I began to stare longingly out those long grade school windows, counting the hours until I could skip home to play hopscotch, jump rope, and leap into the deep piles of colorful crunchy leaves on the other side of our neighbor’s stucco wall.

When I was pregnant the first time, I couldn’t believe my good fortune–to add my son’s birth to the other most meaningful events of the year–my own anniversary and my birthday, both in October. He was born on the second day of fall, September 22. He died that November.

September, October and November are still my favorite months, but now as summer morphs into fall, I feel a tightening around my ribs, a thumb at my throat. So much happened in Malcolm’s short life, thirty years ago. I rarely noticed the brilliant leaves and deep blue sky. We spent the entire season rushing from hospital to hospital–and home with our sick boy for a brief and terrifying two weeks. And then on the most brilliant of fall days, he died.

As I watch the days shorten and my son’s birthday approach, I think back to that little girl playing hopscotch on her driveway. She had no idea how poignant autumn would be to the woman she would become.